Debating the decision to reproduce

Having children is a choice with strong ethical implications, Queen’s Research Chair Christine says in her new book

Philosophy professor Christine Overall spoke at the Ban Righ Women’s Centre last week to discuss her new book, Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate.
Philosophy professor Christine Overall spoke at the Ban Righ Women’s Centre last week to discuss her new book, Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate.
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The decision to have kids may be a very personal one for most people, but for philosophy professor Christine Overall, it’s a decision with far-reaching consequences.

“There is the burden of justification for women who choose not to have kids,” she said, “but I think that burden needs to shift toward women who do.”

Overall, a Queen’s University Research Chair, held a talk at the Ban Righ Centre last week to discuss her book, Why Have Children? The Ethical Debate. The book, released in February, argues that people should abstain from having kids because of the inherent ethical risks involved.

According to Overall, one can’t predict the impact children will have on society at large or on family members. 

“Choosing to have children has a profound effect on people and makes a huge difference to society,” she said during the talk. “It affects so many people.” Every person’s actions have ripple effects, she said, adding that if a child acts unethically in his or her lifetime, this could negatively affect society on a larger scale.

Part of this social impact is an increased consumption rate, which negatively affects the environment, she added.

“It’s not a prudential or pragmatic or personal question, but an ethical one,” she said. “By having only one kid, you are doubling your own consumption rate in your own lifetime and putting the planet at more risk for environmental degradation.”

Children have no control over being born, she added, and this brings serious ethical implications to procreating.

“Children will have no idea what their lives will be like and they have no control over the experiences they are born into,” she said.

Overall said she became interested in the philosophical implications of having kids after she felt the pressure to become a mother when she was younger.

She said it’s only really been in the past 50 years that women have had the opportunity to choose whether or not to become a mother because of progressive social movements started in the 1960’s.

Despite this, there is still social pressure to have kids, she added.

“It’s important that we educate women about their choices so they don’t feel like they have to abide by or subscribe to these gender norms,” she said. This pressure leads to people having children for the wrong reasons, which adds to the ethical dilemma.

“Most of the time, people have kids because they feel pressure from other people, like their own parents or friends or grandparents,” Overall said. “They are using their kids as a means to an end and that is ethically wrong in and of itself.”

Donna Bell, executive director of Kingston Pregnancy Care Centre, said she thinks ethical concerns shouldn’t get in the way of a woman’s right to reproduce.

“A woman should never be denied the right to have a baby,” she said. “I don’t think procreation is ethically wrong ... that isn’t right.”

Having kids is a natural process many women undergo for instinctual reasons, she added.

“Life is precious and I don’t think bringing more life into the world could be considered an ethical mistake,” she said. “Women choose to have children because it’s an [instinct] to want to reproduce. All species have that desire.”

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